REVIEW : 13th July 2004, India Express

Aabid Surti's The Black Book, questions and challenges the hypocrisy of organised religion.

He is the Salman Rushdie of Hindi literature. Not because he married luscious model half his age. But because writer Aabid Surti (70) courts controversy. Much before Rushdie faced a fatwa for Satanic Verses, Surti had scandalised orthodox Hindus, Muslims and Christians with Kali Kitaab,
a blasphemous Hindi novel first published in 1975. After nearly three decades, 'Satan Surti's work The Black Book, an English translation of the controversial novel, has hit the stands.

Written in the classical style of the Old Testament, it deals with devils in God's kingdom. The "prophet" Yam-Jalal preaches the gospel of un-truth, is condemned and crucified. Seated in his modest flat in Mira Road, with paintings of nude women (he calls them the Shakti series) in the background, Surti says: "Every prophet (Jesus, Mohammad, Moses...) came with a revealed book. I thought it was injustice to the devils. So I gave them a book. It questions the hypocrisy of organised religion".

Translated into four languages (Urdu, Kannada, Gujarati and Marathi), Kali Kitaab sparked a long debate when Hindi scholar Kamleshwar first published it in the Hindi journal Sarika. "It's darker than the night and brighter than the light. The man clearly sees both sides of his soul, the black as well as white," Kamleshwar had said. "I am not an atheist, but I strongly protest the monopoly of the mullahs and the mahants. Why can't we have an alternative view?" asks the self-proclaimed devil's advocate.

When it first appeared in Urdu, many Muslims declared Surti an enemy of Islam. One maulvi even told Surti's wife Masoom that her husband had been possessed by Satan and needed purification. The wife apparently agreed. She took the maulvi home and put Surti through a "purification process". "He blessed me, saying the devil was exorcised. I believe the devil never left me," laughs Surti, also a noted playwright (his Radhe Radhe Hum Sab Aadhe played for more than 50 shows). His book hasn't been a party for friends, though. Urdu writer-activist Sajid

Rashid lost his assembly elections from Kurla, a Muslim majority area, in 1990 be-cause some Muslims dug out Kali Kitaab, which Rashid had published in Urdu. “They said I was a friend of Satan Surti. I lost the elections,’’ he laughs.